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Here are three Bruce Mau design principles for better impact

Bruce Mau has 28 design principles that constitute his method. December 1, 2015 Category: Method

Womb to tomb, we live in a designed world. From the towns and cities we live in, to the products we use and the messages we process, everything has been designed with purpose. But how do we design things better? Specifically, how do we design to create greater social impact?

“If we have all this power to shape the world, what are we shaping it for? Now that we can do anything, what will we do?” asked renowned designer Bruce Mau at a recent Arts + Business Council event. “We’ve taken diseases off the face of the planet, reshaped the landscape, recovered ecologies we’ve destroyed — all of that by design. We’re designing those outcomes.”

Mau, who recently designed the future of Mecca, said we need to adopt disruptive new ways of thinking that give birth to new enterprises. If we live a designed life, and that design changes everything, we naturally disrupt everything we do. Now, it’s time to focus that disruption on creating good.

“It’s art and business, creativity with discipline, the openness of creativity and the analysis of business and science,” Mau said. “It’s the synthesis of art, technology and science.”

Sounds like a bunch of nice words and ideas jostled together, right? Mau shared part of his 28-principle method to shine more light on his theory.

1. Work on what you love.

It’s super cliche, but at the core, Mau has a good point. Empathy and passion are absolutely crucial to creating social impact. “Attach your passion to your output,” Mau said. “Only if you do that will you find other people who share your passion.” And, as the old adage goes, teamwork makes the dream work.

2. Design the invisible.

“If you could see the reality of the airplane you fly in, you would never get on it,” Mau said. “If you experienced what’s really going on, you would not be [reading the news] — you would be screaming bloody murder.”

Mau said it’s important to design things that will last — things that will inevitably sustain through eons of human innovation. When he worked on Coca-Cola‘s Live Positively branding campaign, which resulted in the brand designing chairs with the caps from their bottles, someone asked him why the solution wasn’t just to get rid of Coke.

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“I don’t want less than what we have now,” Mau said. “I want to design it so I can have it without guilt, without creating problems, without destroying the landscape.”

3. Break through the noise. 

Perhaps the most tactical principle for internal organizational operations, this relates to the fact that more and more messaging is flooding the market, all producing noise — really, really loud noise.

“Most organizations have hundreds of initiatives,” Mau said. “Too many projects, none breaking through the noise to gain real impact.”

Mau’s advice? Get above the noise level, where there is higher clarity in the relationship between an organization and the work it is doing.

“Part of the work we do starts from the first principle — inspire. [Organizations] have got to leave what they already have in order to venture out into that new place,” said Mau, adding that getting out of your organizational comfort zone by taking a risk takes courage and commitment to your mission.

“If you want people to innovate, you need to reinforce stability. People will not go to new places unless they feel safe,” he said. “The more scared you are, the more conservative you are.”

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